By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 25, 2008
BEIJING, July 24 -- China's public security minister told paramilitary police at a pre-Olympic rally that they must "resolutely" prevent political protests as well as terrorist attacks during next month's Beijing Games, the official press reported Thursday.
Meng Jianzhu's comments underlined the determination of China's leaders to smother any attempt to stage political demonstrations when China is in the international spotlight during the Aug. 8-24 events. Following a pattern set early on in Olympic preparations, Meng appeared to accord equal priority to preventing terrorism and preventing protests.
Security forces must "resolutely prevent severe violence and terrorist incidents, resolutely prevent severe political incidents that could affect state security and social stability and resolutely prevent large-scale mass incidents to make sure the objective of a safe Olympic Games is reached," he told People's Armed Police troops and officers gathered Wednesday in the corps' Beijing headquarters.
Chinese authorities have adopted the phrase "large-scale mass incidents" to mean protests, demonstrations and riots. The instructions were delivered during a teleconference to a total of 49,000 troops from 873 People's Armed Police units scheduled to be on duty in Beijing and five other cities hosting Olympic events.
Meng's comments, reported by the People's Armed Police News and other official publications, were made the same day as Olympic security officials announced that special demonstration sites would be set aside in three Beijing parks during the Games. The officials said this was in line with the practice in previous Olympics. But they also emphasized that only authorized demonstrations would be allowed, in effect maintaining the ban on anti-government protest.
Meng's exhortation to the lined-up People's Armed Police was seen as particularly important because those troops will be the main security forces on the ground during the Olympics, dealing with athletes, spectators, tourists and journalists, as well as would-be protesters. Meng's tone suggested that the troops, if they take their cue from him, are likely to approach their task with an unbending attitude.
The 700,000-member People's Armed Police is a paramilitary force whose duties include guarding embassies and putting down riots. It is commanded jointly by the Defense and Public Security ministries in close coordination with Communist Party leaders, in particular Zhou Yongkang, who has overall charge of security on the elite Politburo Standing Committee.
Chinese analysts and foreign diplomats have said China's leaders seem resolved to prevent any disruption of the harmonious image they are eager to project to the world, even when warned that rough tactics against foreign protesters are likely to go down poorly abroad.
Tibetan independence sympathizers, human rights activists, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual exercise movement and critics of China's Darfur policy have been singled out by Chinese security officials as the foreigners most likely to try to hold street demonstrations or unfurl banners in front of TV cameras during the Games. As a result, visa applications are being screened with particular care. Some visits have been banned, and authorities acknowledged Thursday they have also further tightened controls over business visas, declining to issue invitation documents until September.
Separatist radicals from the Uighur Muslim population of China's far-western Xinjiang region have been identified as the most likely to use violent or terrorist tactics, such as bombings or kidnappings, to draw attention to their cause.
The equal intensity of official concern over political protests and terrorist attacks was underlined in an editorial in the People's Armed Police News warning that the police force faces a "tough challenge."
"Western anti-China forces are attempting to disrupt us, using the opportunity of the Olympic Games," it said. "International terrorist forces are eager to make terror attacks targeting the Beijing Games, and domestic enemies are deploying step by step their disruption activities against the Olympic Games."